C2c Day 4 – 13.5 miles (67 total)

I tossed and turned during the night in my island of dry, and fortunately the damp clothes I wore inside my down bag ended up drying from my body heat over night. It’s a neat trick to go to bed damp and wake up dry, but it only works if things are damp, not wet.

When I heard Amber moving around I knew she had survived, and in fact she said it was the best night of sleep so far on the trip! Huh! 

We knew the miles to the sea wouldn’t take all day to walk, so watched the sky lighten with our hot coffee in hand. Daylight had us laying all our gear out and shaking off the remaining puddles. Since we had no more sleeps we could hike in all our dry clothes…beds for all tonight!

All the wet

We had arranged to meet Anne, Amber’s wife at Ona Beach this afternoon, and even though there was plenty of time, we moved at a steady pace through the chilly, and dry morning. We had a spot of cell reception last night and marvels of all marvels, found a day of no rain would see us to the ocean. How did we get so lucky?

I hobbled behind Amber, my pace starting to wane as the miles ticked by. My planter fasciitis had gone from uncomfortable to excruciating. This pain sucks. 

We entered another beautiful section of trail through the last layer of coastal mountains before the sea, and we could smell the salt in the air. Much excite!

Now the C2C has alternates that hikers and bikers will need to follow depending on the season and logging schedule. We had already detoured a bit, adding some miles onto the trip, but since some of the trail goes through active logging areas and sensitive habitats, it’s really important to abide the closures. Have you ever seen an active logging area? Trust me when I say you don’t want to be anywhere near one. The massive hulk of the machines, the size of the trees, and the speed those trucks take when barreling down forest roads can be a terrifying for a hiker. Think of the ants you don’t see but squish while walking down the trail. You are the ant in an active logging operation. Anyway, the C2C has some of those. Please follow the detours around them!

We finally popped out on a paved road near the Beaver Creek Wildlife Area. I realized with delight that this was a place Kirk and I had paddled our sea kayaks before…the wetlands are a wildlife bonanza, and that fact was reinforced by our next unexpected encounter on the road walk. 

A small red car sped by us, then whipped a u turn to come back, parking partially in the road. A loquacious local got out of the car and talked at us for a few minutes about trail, cougars, bears, and various other critters found near by. We smiled and nodded, and before we knew it she was back in the car speeding away. We looked at each other a bit confused by the encounter, but happy to be acknowledged at all.

Soon we were at the final carsonite posts on the side of the road that marked the end of the trail….but it wasn’t the end for us, we were going to finish at the ocean.

After another quarter mileish through the park we saw the sea. Packs down, shoes off, into the Pacific. Now we were done!!

We had some time before Anne would come to whisk us away to food, showers, and a warm dry bed, so made some hot drinks on the beach and soaked in the November sun.
Now walking to the ocean was fab, but we decided that walked to Corvallis might be a better way to go. Ona Beach didn’t have the delights we were craving: no celebratory beer, no clam chowder. If you walked to Corvallis you could end at a brewery or eatery of your choice. And because we all know one of the best things about hiking is eating, you might consider that for your hike of the C2C.

When Anne arrived, she sped us up to Newport for the clam chowder we had been talking about for days, and before we knew it were back in the land of walls and artificial light.

A short and sweet journey!

C2c Day 3 – 17 miles (53.5 miles total)

Ha ha, joke’s on me.

I went to bed feeling smug because we were going to hike as if the time change didn’t happen today. We hike by the light of day!
Then I woke up, started my morning coffee and writing routine and the sky started to lighten. What the?

Because my phone had been on airplane mode, I didn’t think it would change time automatically. I thought I was besting the system, but the whole time I was playing with time I was getting played.

Doh! 

The phone did change.We got a later start.
But did that extra half hour help our bodies knit themselves back together after all the stress we have been putting them under? I like to think so.

We immediately started sweating on a trail climb. The trail wove through old growth and the ferns and moss were getting mossier if that is even possible. These forest appear to be saturated most of the time…the undergrowth is thick and jungly.

We climbed up and up and may have been a bit grumbley about it until we came to a pair of big ‘ol trees and we adjusted our attitudes accordingly. 

I made the mistake of sitting down during morning break when it wasn’t raining, and we got chilled when our bodies cooled. Geez, I won’t do that again, it take too long to warm up after that. 

Managing the wet. That’s the phase of the hike we are in now. It started pouring when we were packing up, so both of our tents are soaked through. We both have wet feet, and the only solution is to keep moving. 

We had a chat about being safe in the cold wet out here, and we both agreed to keep each other apprised if we slipped into the “danger cold” phase where we would stop and fix or hike out. We still had dry sleeping bags and some dry layers…still in good shape if we manage the wet appropriately. 
More climbing and rain and lush green rainforest. We had much to admire today.
Lunch was in a rare spot of sun. I know! We are still so lucky with the sun…we didn’t expect to see any.

We kept it brief and started up Palmer Mountain, our last big climb of the trip. We’ll be done tomorrow already!

Then we hiked in best part of all, a dense old growth forest. We had to weave in and out and around the verdant life, ducking beneath green hairy branches of a forest older than everything. 

We got water next to a rushing little creek, and started up a climb. We climbed and climbed…the trail was an old road bed here so the climb was slow and gradual at just enough incline that we had to initiate the grind.

And then…at the top, but not top. We didn’t go to the summit, the road just leveled out. 
And we kept walking. A few more miles downhill brought us to a churned up hill of dirt, and we poked around looking for a flat spot to camp. Finding none but eyeing the sky that was about to start dumping on us, we decided to throw up our tents on the gravel side of the road. 

I had helped Amber put rocks on her rain fly (the ground was too hard for stakes) and had just hurriedly started putting mine up when the water came. We didn’t make it. We were still wrapped in our rain coats and trash bags and our packs were covered, but we both had rivers running through our tents. I think there were a few balls of hail too.

The sky dumped. 

We kept putting our tents up. We had to get in those wet things stat and transition to dry asap.

Once inside we kept to the islands of our inflatable sleeping pads and watched the puddles surrounding us grow.

I ate snacks and surveyed the damage: everything is kinda wet, but I know my body heat will dry out some of it over night, the temps shouldn’t too cold, and I had hot food and drinks to look forward to.

Amber was in a similar state, and every once in a while when we could hear each other over the pounding couchaphany of the rain on our tents, we shouted encouragements.

We were alive and dry with snacks. And tomorrow we would walk to the sea. 

C2c Day 2 – 17.5 miles (36.5 total)

The rain started overnight, but was very considerate and stopped while we were packing up camp. We were out and hiking at first light…that means 7:30ish these days. Daylight savings starts tomorrow, but we’ll still follow the sun’s lead, not some arbitrary number on a watch.

Amber cut that tree

We started down a section of trail that Amber had helped clear before and found a few more logs for her to come back and address with her chainsaw. The forest was dripping with rain, but flashes of blue sky still teased us from above…this would be the general pattern of the day.

Umbrellas up, Umbrellas down, rain coats on, raincoats off. We made progress and periodically had views back towards Mary’s Peak….a hiker on the C2C could summit Mary’s Peak if they wish…we did not wish, so kept moving. 

Thank you rainbow
So dramatic

Lunch found us near one of the numerous C2C kiosks that had been installed. They all contain slips to register your hike, but I’d suggest they add a trail register note book so we could read tid bits of those who had come before us, or leave advice of our own, like: “bring more whisky for this section.” (We ran out of whisky today).

Even better for a lunch break? Sun!!! We plopped down in a rare patch of sun and had a glorious lunch and lie-down in the warming light. We have been pretty lucky with the sun on this hike…but then came the hail.

We had walked close to Harlan, a town that time forgot, (a town with no services that is, not a pizza food truck to be found) when a great rush of wind pushed a small hail storm into us. We sought refuge under a giant doug fir tree as the squall passed. 

Later we pulled over briefly to let some traffic pass….30 cows and a few cowgirls on horses that is, and kept walking.

Cows and cowgirls

On and on, and on and on. We plod up the road (plenty of road walking today, but also lovely little stretches of trail) and decide to skip checking out Big Elk Campground (the half way point!) and decided to make a few more miles before stopping for camp. 

We turned onto some new trail construction and got a few liters of water for the night at a stream crossing before climbing up the many switchbacks to the ridge above. The next section of trail paralleled a road, and after we crossed the road and climbed up and the road stayed level, posited that the road may be a less “oofta” inducing experience. 

Aches and pains update: my legs feel like lead weight and my feet are angry. Amber reports feet feeling like hamburger (echoing a comment I made at one point yesterday), and sore shoulders. Since I am writing this in the dark early morning of the next day, she also adds “my neck hurts because I can’t sit up in my tent and have to hunch over. ” Note to Amber: get a new tent.

We made camp right before another heavy rain storm unleashed the wet from above, but we are buttoned up warm and dry to welcome another 14-hour night.

C2C Day 1 – 19 miles

It was February, 2020, BC (before COVID) when I last visited my friend Amber in Corvallis.


This is where I first heard about a new long-distance trail that crossed the Oregon coastal mountain range to the the Pacific ocean.


Amber was doing trail work for the almost-complete 60-mile Corvallis to Sea trail (C2C) and was putting her saw skills to the test clearing trees from the path. Amber and I met in 2007 when we were both training in a trail crew leader development program at South West Conservation Corps in Durango, Colorado. We spent days learning to use chainsaws and cutting down scores of tall pines in thinning projects for the forest service. It was back-breaking work, but we were young and the work was empowering.

Our crew in 2007


When I heard the C2C had a grand opening in August of this year, I sent Amber a text and asked if she would thru-hike it with me. The only time our schedules aligned was in early November, so we braced ourselves for the short rainy days that are typical in late fall in this part of Oregon. 


On a Thursday afternoon I drove over the pass through driving rain to Corvallis. Amber and I spread the contents of our packs across the floor of her living room and proceeded to talk our way through gear choices in what was sure to be a rainy and cold four days.

  
On further examination of the weather between here and Ona Beach, the temps would be in the 50s and 40s, so not too cold, but with 90-100% chances of precipation, we girded ourselves for constant rain.
Friday morning we set out into the dark-almost light of the day from her front door. Amber only lives 2ish miles from the start of the trail in downtown Corvallis, so why not walk out her front door? 
We crossed busy traffic and as the sky lightened we could see color and patches of blue sky. Hmmm, blue was not what we expected, but we’ll take it!

Walking to Corvallis


I regailed her with tales of pain, stress, and heat from the month Kirk and I had spent on the John Day River this summer, and we cruised through the urban part of this trail.
Sidewalks and paved bike paths took us through Corvallis and into Philomath. The benefits of urban hiking became apparent when we took an alternate to Sissy’s Donuts. Sissy herself was at the counter, and as she filled our donut order, took curious looks at our packs.

Sissy


A few minutes later we walked out with a full water supply (it will be a dry camp tonight) and our first trail magic of the trail – two donuts for the road! How wonderful! I told Sissy that she was our first trail angel of the trip, and she positively glowed. Trail community starts with lovely experiences like this! 


Then we went next door to the Dizzy Hen Cafe and ordered lattes. Multiple people stopped to hear about our plans as we soaked in the unexpected sunshine, donuts, coffee, and conversation. This is proving be to a most excellent start to the trip.


We walked out of town and turned right onto Old Peak Road. The pavement-to-gravel road wove through a temperate rainforest of dripping mossy trees in shades of neon green.

One of the many C2C Kiosks on the trail


Next up was a tree-farm part of the route…one of the only sections where you need to get a permit to pass through the private lands of the Starker Tree Farm.
A few gorgeous old-growth trees remained along the road. These mind-bending beauties had trunks so big we just had to stop and take it in. This was a glimpse into a world where the forest had been filled with trees of this size. We would be walking through a visual history 200 years of logging.


The sun was still out. Can you believe it? We had sun the whole day. It was simply incredible and highlighted the golden yellows of fall in the deep green forest. We practically skipped through the forest as if our muffin-tops and legs weren’t sore. These 40ish year old bodies were a bit achy, but also lucky to be walking through the forest on a sunny November afternoon with gifted donuts in our pack. The trail provides. 

Some massive old growth trees, the whole forest had trees this big at one point!


We made camp off a decommissioned spur road, and watched the last traces of day fade from the blue sky. BLUE SKY!

Mountain Wandering: Day 3

Awe won. Hands down. 


Sometime in the night the rain stopped. When the first light opened the day I could see to the cliff sides across the creek; it will be a brilliant day.


I was packed and walking before 8am, excited at what I could already see. Because I took a layover day yesterday, the logistics of some of those loops and lakes were taken off the table, but it is what it is. My back is feeling better, and what I can do is climb up to Horton Pass at 8,500′ and peek over the other side to the lakes basin. I need about 25+ more backpacking trips here to see all that I want to see. 


This area has a strong pull on me.


I hike up and up, the trail isn’t messing around and only has a few miles to get me to the shoulder of Eagle Cap Mountain.


Soon I can see the snow zone. About the last mile to the top will be in snow, softened just enough by the sun to make the going easy.

I’m glad I wasn’t up here yesterday. 


This is simply astounding. 


There are no other tracks, no other signs of humans, I have the world to myself today. Up top I am greeted by ridgelines shrouded in cloud wisps, lakes and snow and trees as far as the eye can see. 


After just a few minutes I turn around and gingerly follow my footprints in the snow back down down down to Eagle Creek below.


From here I just need to decide where to camp. I am due to stay with Mike and Donna Higgins in Halfway tomorrow night, but the forecast has me a bit nervous for tomorrow. Rain is coming, snow in the high country. I drove my little Honda Fit out here, and accessing this trailhead alone had me at high elevations on gravel roads. I don’t want to get stuck, so I debate camping close to the car so I can make a mad dash if the rain/snow materializes early.


As it is, I find myself mulling over what ifs and maybes all the time, especially when I’m out by myself. Planning ahead and preparing for the worst is one of the best things you can do out here. If you are prepared for the worst, everything else will be delightful! It’s very much on my mind as I am hosting a conversation this week (October 14 on Zoom – 5pm Pacific time) about safety and risk and being prepared for a backcountry adventure. I’ll be talking with two people who were on different sides of search and rescue efforts: Stacy, who broke her knee while on the Oregon Desert Trail and needed to call for help, and Tomas who found and unconscious man and needed to provide help. Should be a good talk!


So I walk out, slowly, savoring the colors and granite and marble mountains. 


I am super close to the car, and can’t find a good spot to camp, so without really thinking about it walk right back to my car. It’s car camping time! I set up diagonally across the back of my Honda fit and manage an ok night of tossing and turning. 


This was a short and sweet little hike up into the heights of NE Oregon, and it only leaves me wanting more.

Mountain Wandering: Day 2

I thought I would give the day a head start and lay low this morning. The rain started as I was finishing my coffee and made the decision for me.

Thanks for the pancakes Charlie & Emelie!


I had 2,500’ish to climb in 3 miles. If this rain is snow up there, it could be a mild snowfall or a blizzard. Both are likely. I’ll check it out later after a morning nap.


While laying about, listening to rain drops splashing off my tent, I put on an On Being podcast episode. The topic was trees with Suzanne Simard. Suzanne did the science that proves all trees are connected, and further posits that humans are a part of that connection. 


I’m working on reconnecting presently.


It’s 10:30 am and the rain has only gotten heavier. I asked for a weather report on my InReach to find the forecast is for 100% rain this morning, tapering to 40% this afternoon and 0% over night. Tomorrow, sunny. 


Ok, decided. I dug a moat around my tent to guide the puddles of water formed in the compacted earth away from my dry things, and climbed back inside for some hot cider and reading. Thank goodness the fear I carry is boredom because I have a new book, half a Harper’s magazine and hours of podcasts in my pocket. The not walking will probably be good for my back and foot too. 


Well, the day happened, and at times the rain stopped and I could spy fresh snow above. Tomorrow will be stunning.

Mountain Wandering: Day 1

Can awe overcome pain?


The planter faciatus that I developed on the Blue Mountains Trail continues to plague me. I’ve made attempts (some successful) at solving the piercing pain in the heel of my right foot, but it always comes back. 


Oh, and I tweaked my back this summer for the first time. Kirk and I were up at Elk Lake for his birthday, moving paddleboards to the lake, when I twisted while picking one up and my whole lower back twinged and I had very little movement and a lot a pain. I did it again to a lessor degree last weekend when I tried to get out of my tent. 


Both are plaguing me on day one of a 4-day solo backpacking trip into the Wallowas. Maybe I can walk it off? Not likely with the heel pain, especially since I walked that one on last fall.


Ok, it is manage it then…but I’ve got to get serious about healing both. I have a 2-month sabbatical at work next year and I’m going hiking!


So to the awe: this marble and granite chunk of Mountains in NE Oregon (where I started the Blues Mountains Trail last year) is out of this world. I’m hiking (it really feels like plodding) up Eagle Creek towards Horton Pass. The golds and reds from the October fall days are piercing blocks of color against the green and silver rock of the canyon walls. 


A family out horsepacking passes me while I pulled over to eat lunch. They look prepared to set up somewhere for a few days, and when I saw their tracks headed up to Hidden Lake (my intended destination for the night) I found something lower, saving me the 1000′ climb. I’ll take it, for the views at my new camp are already making me forget my worries. 


It was a short day, relatively speaking, but I have no agenda, only loose ideas, and there are countless options for trails, and lakes, and passes, and loops, so I’m just going to take it as it comes this time. No imposing my will on the miles, instead, letting the Wallowas (and my body) impose their will on me.

Develop your personal connection to the desert, and do some work!

I’ve been working hard over the last seven months to revamp the Oregon Natural Desert Associations Independent Stewards Program and all that hard work is starting to pay off! I just launched a few more projects this week, and we have plenty of opportunities for folks to go adventure and preform some important stewardship or monitoring tasks on their trip.

The Source (a weekly paper in Bend) just published a nice overview of the program.


ONDA’s Independent Stewards Program 

Volunteer projects designed for individuals or households to safely undertake during the pandemic

BY DAMIAN FAGAN

This past year was a rough one, even for volunteers. Many nonprofit organizations canceled group volunteer projects to minimize exposure during the pandemic.

One local described that experience.Monitoring in the Spring Basin Wilderness in Eastern Oregon. - MARK DARNELL

  • Photo by MARK DARNELL, Monitoring in the Spring Basin Wilderness in Eastern Oregon.

“I tried to volunteer last year, but COVID derailed that,” said Jess Beauchemin, a volunteer with the Oregon Natural Desert Association. This year, she’s signed up to do monitoring of Wilderness Study Areas in the Prineville District of the Bureau of Land Management.

With risk levels changing, the curtain is partially lifting, and ONDA is ramping up its Independent Stewards program.

“We’ve had an Independent Stewards program since about 2015,” said Renee Patrick, Independent Stewards program coordinator. “But it’s been a very small part of what we offer and wasn’t very well developed with resources to really help people feel comfortable going out by themselves to do stewardship or monitoring work on their own.” With that, ONDA’s Conservation and Campaign staff members began to explore options for utilizing volunteer help with on-the-ground projects, but in a different capacity than the historic group outing. “We went back to the beginning and dreamed big,” added Patrick.

The staff created projects that would be rewarding and engaging to volunteers and could be completed on a flexible schedule. The stewardship team then spent five to six months building out the projects with partnering land management agencies, drawing up maps and collating project information. “We are even doing video tutorials and some of the projects have introductions from our agency staff explaining how the work will impact the on-the-ground aspect to a location or contribute to some greater goal,” added Patrick. The goal was not just to create work projects, but to also relate these projects to the greater context of ONDA’s conservation work and the protection of wild places in the high desert.“To develop a deeper relationship with a place you’ve got to spend some time there.”—Jess Beauchemintweet this

ONDA launched its online volunteer registration form in late February, garnering over 350 interested people. The registration form provides ONDA staff with information about the volunteer’s interests, availability, and even details such as comfort levels with remote camping, backcountry navigation or four-wheel driving—often major aspects of working in hard-to-reach places strewn across the desert. The goal is to match volunteers with the right opportunity.

Available projects revolve mostly around habitat and recreation monitoring, wildlife monitoring and stewardship projects in various locations such as Wilderness Study Areas in the Prineville BLM, Steens Mountain, Fremont National Forest, Alvord Desert and other spots in eastern Oregon.

One such project is the Fremont National Recreation Trail Work/Monitoring project, where volunteers adopt a 1-mile section of the NRT to do some light trail work and to record visitor use with the Recreational Impact Monitoring System app, developed by the Colorado Mountain Club and adapted for ONDA’s work in Oregon. Another trail monitoring and stewardship project will focus on about 40 miles of trail through the Steens Mountain Wilderness.Juniper Mountain lek monitoring. - JIM DAVIS

  • Photo by JIM DAVIS, Juniper Mountain lek monitoring.

Through ONDA’s partnership with the Burns BLM District, staffers learned of unprecedented use of the Alvord Desert WSA in 2020. BLM staff related that the Alvord Desert was seeing impacts caused by three to four times what normal use was in previous years.

“Stewardship activities on the Alvord Desert will include dispersing fire rings (which are a safety hazard especially to vehicles, airplanes and land sailors), picking up trash, brushing out vehicle trespass incursions (beyond the allowed motorized use area), monitoring for negative wildlife interactions and handing out wag bags with included responsible recreation information,” said Lace Thornberg, ONDA communications manager.

“I spend a lot of time hiking in the desert, and I’ve gained a great appreciation of the high desert in the last five years that I’ve lived in Bend,” said volunteer Beauchemin. “This project gives me an opportunity to give back to the organizations that protect the lands that I like to recreate on, and I get to fulfill a deeper relationship with a place that I haven’t spent a lot of time in.”

Beauchemin has committed to visiting sites, twice per year, over the next three years, to provide some continuity even post-pandemic. “To develop a deeper relationship with a place you’ve got to spend some time there,” added Beauchemin.

ONDA
Onda.org/independent-stewards/

Hellraiser Keynote Speech

I was thrilled to be asked to give the keynote speech at the May 8 fundraiser for the Greater Hells Canyon Council. The evening was a smashing success, and raised many thousands of dollars to support their work to connect, protect, and restore the wild lands, waters, native species and habitats of the Greater Hells Canyon Region in north eastern Oregon (and establish the Blue Mountains Trail!)

The speech was recorded ahead of time and you can now watch from the comfort of your couch, lawn chair, or tent (if you are so lucky.)